Waiting in the Garden

tombMary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Luke 20:18 (NLT)

John 20:11-18

I’m not ready to say good bye to Easter.

Earlier in this chapter, Mary arrives at the tomb to find it open and empty. She runs to tell Peter and the others, who didn’t believe her story and came to see for themselves. After looking in the tomb, the other disciples left Mary outside the tomb, crying.

At first, Mary sees 2 angels who asked her why she was crying. Jesus was gone and she didn’t know where His body was. Have you experienced the death of a loved one? There seems to be an innate drive to keep that person close for as long as possible. Mary was coming to honor her beloved friend.

To her horror, not only was her Lord dead, but now she seemed to be experiencing a second loss. The Jesus she loved was gone. The disciples had come and gone. The 2 guys in white robes were just asking her silly questions. I’m sure her head was spinning. She was intent on finding Jesus’ body. Did the Romans take it? Maybe Joseph had second thoughts and had Jesus’ body move to another grave.

Then she sees the grounds keeper. Certainly, he’ll know what’s happened. She pleads for the information. Her deep devotion to Jesus offered more than she could accomplish. She would not be able to move Jesus’ body on her own. That fact didn’t matter, she was desperate.

Then gardener calls her by name. Once He says her name, she knows He’s her Jesus.

Only then does she leave the garden. She runs to tell the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

Reading this account brings Matthew 7:7-8 to mind:

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (NLT)

Mary’s love for Jesus was not shallow. Once she recognized her Jesus was not in the tomb, she became a seeker, an asker, and a knocker. Mary did not intend to leave simply knowing what happened to Jesus. She stayed behind when the disciples ran back to town. She asked everyone she saw. She was not distracted by or enamored with the angels. The reward for her love and devotion: She saw the Lord!

As interesting as Mary is in this scene, consider Jesus. Jesus comes to satisfy the longing in Mary’s heart. Jesus is the answer to Mary’s inquiries. When He came, He came to her personally. Jesus called her by name. He met her need.

Have you seen the Lord? Have you looked for Him? Have you stayed around after others have left, simply to look for Him? He comes in love and compassion to those who seek Him. If you look for Him, you will find Him. With a voice of love, He’ll call your name.

Father, I want to know Jesus. I want to see the Lord. Give me the deep devotion Mary displayed to the One who loved me first! Help me not be content to just know about Jesus. Make me a seeker!

 

Be My Witness

WitnessesStill they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and He ate it as they watched.

Then He said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And He said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.  It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things. Luke 24:41-48 (NLT)

Dazed and confused

I really feel bad for the disciples when I read passages like this. Sure, they lived with Jesus. I know they witnessed all sorts of amazing things. They were there, in person to see Jesus die and then they saw Him alive again.

If you are like me, you’ve heard the Easter story countless times. You’ve heard all the stories many times. The disciples didn’t know how Good Friday was going to turn out. They weren’t exactly sure what this empty tomb meant and whether they could believe their eyes. They were confused, scared and wary—they didn’t know how Jesus’ story would unfold.

You and I have the luxury of distance. Jesus isn’t looking you in the eye when He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” When my faith is weak, I can go about my business without having to see the disappointment in the eye of my friend, Jesus. The disciples weren’t so fortunate.

Luke sums it up – disbelief, joy and wonder all mixed together. They watched Jesus as He ate some fish, proving He wasn’t a ghost or a figment of their collective imaginations. They listened as Jesus gave the recap of what He told them before He died. Then Jesus opened their minds and it all came together.

You are the witnesses of all these things.

To what can you bear witness? Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? The answer to that question isn’t the Bible verse that will convert your unsaved friend. It’s not an account of your “faith story” from beginning to end. It’s not explaining how long it took God to make the universe, how God got all the animals to Noah’s ark, or how God parted the Red Sea.

Being a witness of Christ is much simpler once you demystify the notion of “being a witness.” You do it all the time. It goes like this; let me give you a couple of examples. If you are ever in my hometown of Marshalltown, go eat at Zeno’s Pizza—it’s the best pizza in the state. If you want to see a good, action packed movie that is fun from beginning to end, watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

How difficult is that? I can tell you from my first hand experience about the pizza and the movie. That is what being a witness is. Jesus told His disciples they would change the world with their witness of Him. If Jesus has changed you, you have the same obligation to share that news.

Be My witness

Have you told your friends about a great place to eat, a movie, or a sports team? How long did you spend telling them about it—a couple of minutes?   What if you told them about the great sermon point the pastor made Sunday, the inspiring verse you read today, or how you saw God peek around the corner in some mundane event of your life? What if you spent just a couple of minutes each day bearing witness of the risen Savior? What if everyone who claims the name of Christ did that? Could the whole world hear of a Savior who came to offer forgiveness to all who repent?

Scripture doesn’t whitewash the fear, doubt and confusion the disciples experienced. Sometimes sharing your faith can be scary, even dangerous. Ask God to open you mind. Experience the living Christ. Once that occurs, I challenge you to keep your witness to yourself.

Try it today. If you know Christ is alive, if you know He changed your life, you have a charge from Christ. Bear witness to the things that Christ has done for you.

Father, give me the boldness to share my witness. Let me abandon the notion that I need to be perfect to share Your gift. Awaken my mind to the small ways You work in my life every day. Help me share what I know is true—what I have experienced. Christ is alive!

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The Misplayed Hand

playing cardsEntering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets. Colossians 2:11-15 (MSG)

Some of my most cherished memories are playing games with my friend Wendy’s family; specifically playing cards. I came to this family uninitiated to even the simplest of card games. They were patient, for a while. Wendy’s brother, Brian, was usually my partner. This night we were playing Spades. I had a good hand. I had, in my mind, THE card that would clinch the round for Brian and me. I was not sophisticated enough to count the cards being played. I got more and more excited as the cards in my hand dwindled in number. As my excitement grew, my attentiveness to the game declined.  Then, it was time to make my move. I was the last to play in the round. I slapped down my card with victorious flair.  As my proud play hit the table, Brian shouted, “What are you doing? That was my trick!!!”

I had trumped my partners trick. The play I was so very proud of, cost Brian and me the round. My proud “victory” play resulted in our ultimate defeat. The game wasn’t over, but we had lost. Brian and I sat across from each other, watching Wendy and her dad take the tricks that should have been ours.

It is finished!

Yesterday was Easter. It’s my favorite day of the year. The events of that day, thousands of years ago, changed every day since. What exactly happened while Jesus was dead? Bible scholars who have devoted their entire lives to understanding that have different answers. I don’t know. I do know what Paul wrote.

As Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished!” I’m sure Satan jumped for joy. Jesus was dead. The fight was finished and Satan had won. He thought. What Satan didn’t know was, he misplayed his hand.

The words “It is finished” didn’t yield the victory to Satan. What was finished?  Humanity’s struggle with sin ended at the cross. You’re thinking, I struggle with sin all the time. Yes, I do, too. I long to live a life like Christ’s; full of love, compassion and holiness. Each day I’m confronted with my pride, willfulness and selfishness. Christ’s resurrection ended the battle. It’s no longer my struggle that gives me the victory over sin.

How can the struggle be finished?

What Satan thought was the end of Christ, was his own end. “It is finished!” meant that Satan’s authority over the souls of humanity had reached an end. Satan’s big, game-changing play lost the game for him. When Christ rose from the dead, Christ rose victorious over sin. Paul tells the believer that accepting the gift of salvation entitles you to that same victory. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, new life is yours! God raises YOU from the dead life of sin and gives you a new life—on the winning, victorious team!

“It is finished!” Give up trying to be good enough on your own. You never will be in your own strength! Give up trying to do enough good to outweigh the bad you do. You can’t tip that scale!

Stop—it is finished! Christ purchased you pardon. Exchange your dead life, for the gracious gift of new life in Christ.

Father, thank You for raising Christ from the dead. Thank You for finishing the work to reconcile me to You. Teach me to rest in Your grace.

 

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What Are You Going to do With Jesus?

afterNow there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.   Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.  This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation, as the Sabbath was about to begin.

 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law. Luke 23: 50-55 (NLT)

Jesus was dead.

The people who saw the crucifixion loved Jesus but didn’t know the end of the story. The only thing they knew was the Man who did miracles, Who promised a coming kingdom, Who was their friend, died a gruesome death.

What were they going to do?

His closest friends

Jesus’ closest friends ran and hid. Fear gripped their hearts. I’m sure they spent the hours after Jesus’ death sad and afraid. The very crowd that called for Jesus’ death knew His friends. The disciples were exposed.  In fear and confusion, the eleven went into hiding.

Has being a friend of Jesus caused you hide? Following Jesus has a cost. It may not be monetary. Following Jesus may cost you your comfort.  Jesus never promised ease, but peace and provision. The horrific spectacle drowned out the comforting words of Jesus in the minds of His disciples.  Jesus was the one who raised the dead—what were the disciples going to do?

His closest friends cowered in their pain, fear and confusion.

His distant friends

Jesus had some distant followers. These men were not the ones you would expect to find on the scene. Joseph (not Jesus’ dad) was a member of the Jewish council that called for Jesus’ death. Scripture records Joseph disagreed with the council’s decision.  John records that Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler that came to Jesus at night provided the anointing spices for Jesus’ body. The gospels don’t record any account of these two men openly following Jesus during His earthly ministry.

Since these two men were in the Synagogue, they heard the words of Jesus. At some point during Jesus’ ministry, their hearts were changed. At this moment when tension was high, these distant men stepped to the forefront, collected Jesus’ body, prepared it burial and provided the tomb.

His female followers

In Jesus’ culture, women were, at best, second-class citizens. Women were essentially possessions. The Pharisees never addressed women. Jesus on the other hand, spoke to women, healed women, and showed compassion to women.  Jesus was radical. The women He touched loved Him. In their love, they planned to care for His body, tenderly, the way Jesus cared for them.

These women were close throughout Jesus trial, and stayed at the foot of the cross. The women, mostly unnamed followed Jesus to His death.

What are you going to do with Jesus?

Do you run from Christ when the cost seems too great? Are you a distant follower, weighing the cost of following Christ? Are you a quiet follower? Are you so moved by Christ, that you will follow Him in the darkest moments?

Once you know about Jesus, the inescapable question is, what are you going to do with Him?

Father, help me evaluate my commitment to Christ. Give me a determined heart to follow Christ—openly, with determination, love, and devotion. Give me a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Christ made for me.

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John Meets Isaiah

jesus on the crossIt’s Good Friday. I can think of nothing more fitting than reading to the words of Isaiah who lived about 700 years before Jesus. I’m captivated by the paraphrase of The Message, “Who would have thought God’s saving power would like this?” God’s plan is divinely witty. Who would send the Holy to die for the mundane? Someone who is totally in love, that’s Who!

As you ponder Christ’s death, remember, YOU are the joy He was pursuing.

Isaiah 53 (MSG)*

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,  a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought He brought it on Himself, that God was punishing Him for His own failures. But it was our sins that did that to Him, that ripped and tore and crushed Him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through His bruises we get healed.

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on Him, on Him.

He was beaten, He was tortured, but He didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and He was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for His own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people.

They buried Him with the wicked, threw Him in a grave with a rich man, Even though He’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.

 Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush Him with pain. The plan was that He give himself as an offering for sin so that He’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.  And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul, He’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as He Himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I’ll reward Him extravagantly— the best of everything, the highest honors—Because He looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because He embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, He took up the cause of all the black sheep.

John 19 (NLT)**

Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip.  The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put a purple robe on him.  “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring Him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find Him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

 When they saw Him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Take Him yourselves and crucify Him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because He called Himself the Son of God.”

 When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever.  He took Jesus back into the headquartersagain and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer.  “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over Me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release Him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

 When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha).  It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”

 “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus away.  Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).  There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

 Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”

 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dicefor it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.”  And He said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus knew that His mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture He said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to His lips.  When Jesus had tasted it, He said, “It is finished!” Then He bowed his head and released His spirit.

 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also can believe.)  These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and “They will look on the one they pierced.”

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away.  With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five poundsof perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.  Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before.

And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passoverand since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

 

*Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

**Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.

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If Only… God’s Confusing, Disappointing Plan

planThe people gave him a wonderful welcome, some throwing their coats on the street, others spreading out rushes they had cut in the fields. Running ahead and following after, they were calling out,

Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in highest heaven!

He entered Jerusalem, then entered the Temple. He looked around, taking it all in. But by now it was late, so he went back to Bethany with the Twelve.  Mark 11:8-11 (MSG)

I was nervous the entire 35 mile trip.  Finally the day had come!  I was going to see Billy Joel perform in person.  Having spent years listening to and singing along with Billy, this night was going to be fabulous!  I hoped.  Was the concert going to live up to my hyped expectations?  Could Billy Joel live up to my imagination?  The ride to the concert made me nervous.  Concerned that the Billy Joel I was about to see could ruin the Billy Joel that I developed in my mind over years, I became irritated.  Billy better not let me down, I thought.  Unbeknownst to him, Billy Joel had been through a number of life changing events with me.  I had some grand expectations; the potential for disappointment was high!

~~~~~~~

Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the people awaiting a deliverer—the Messiah.  The news of Jesus had spread from village to village as Jesus, His band of twelve friends and the clamoring crowds followed Him from one place to the next.  The word of healing, exorcism, kind teaching, and the dead raised to life could mean only one thing.  Jesus was coming to take over, to end the oppressive Roman rule, to usher in a new kingdom.  If Jesus could bring the dead back to life, how hard would it be to overthrow the government?

Jesus received a hero’s welcome.  The shouts of “Hosanna” didn’t indicate the crowd’s worship.  The shout of Hosanna was cry for deliverance—Lord save us!  A victorious warrior earned palm branches as he rode home from battle. The people were ready for a king—they gave Jesus a preemptive hero’s welcome.  The uncontainable shouts of joy spilled out as Jesus entered the city.  The Messiah, the redeemer, the rainmaker was here to make life better!

Then Jesus looked around and left.

Has Jesus confused or disappointed you?

The oppressed people longed for freedom, longed for relief, longed for the Messiah.  It wasn’t only the Romans who oppressed the Jews.  The Pharisees piled on rules and rituals that made worship cumbersome and cold.

If only the Messiah Isaiah spoke of would come, this world would be better!

If only…

Then this Jesus arrives.   Kind and compassionate, trivializing the persnickety Pharisees, a true man of the people; Jesus could make things better.  He could be the king!

If only…

The plan of the people would have made life good.  Overthrowing Rome was not a new idea.  Getting rid of the Roman taxes and ending the Roman rule that amounted to slavery would make daily life more pleasant.

You see, God isn’t interested in making life good.  God has a better plan.

Paul explained God’s plan this way:

No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord.

 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Butit was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.  1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (NLT)

The disappointing, confusing death of Christ and His resurrection opens the door for new life—real life.  Don’t let the apparent silliness of God’s plan confuse or disappoint you.  God has a plan that goes far beyond your imagination.  It’s a plan born of love. It’s a plan complete in the smallest detail.  It’s a plan that far surpasses the good you’ve imagined.

Father, help me see past my own shortsighted plan to see the BEST You have for me.  When I get bogged down in the events of today, remind me of eternity and the precious gift Christ purchased with His life.  Give me Your vision to see the plan You have for me.  Help me rest in Your love as Your plan unfolds.

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Do You Want a Life That Matters?

ServantKing“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.  Matthew 23:11-12 (MSG)

 

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  What an amazing example of His command to be a servant, be yourself, and stand out by standing down.

During the week between His triumphant donkey ride and His crucifixion, Jesus interacted with a number of people or groups of people.  His words to the ultra-religious, the showy, those who took a greater interest in self-promotion over God-promotion got the brunt of Jesus’ anger.  In fact, that group was the only group to receive Jesus’ criticism.

Jesus’ practical advice

In Matthew 23 Jesus gave the “regular” people two pieces of sound advice.

  • Don’t let the ultra-religious be your example.

Make sure it’s God you’re following, not some person.  Those who are more interested in impressing you than they are with your soul aren’t worth following.   In this case, the Pharisees burdened those genuinely interested in following God with cumbersome rules and rituals.   The Pharisees exchanged a relationship with God for actions that looked religious but were self-serving and deceitful.

Jesus made the distinction between the words they spoke and the example they lived.  God’s word is true, trustworthy and right.  God can be trusted.  The reality is, some of those who claim His name can’t.  Jesus warns, be careful who you follow.

  • You will never go wrong taking the role of a servant.

Do you want your life to matter?  Then be a servant.

Jesus exemplified this advice in every aspect of His life.  Jesus left the glory of heaven to become a man.  Jesus fed the hungry, touched the leper, ate with the “sinners” and spoke to women.  Just a few days after this scene, Jesus would die—the ultimate act of obedience and servant hood.  His death offers the hope of abundant life here on earth and eternal life in heaven to anyone who accepts the gift.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but those who assume the role of the servant, become great.  Perhaps not the kind of great that leads to your name in lights.  Think about the people who made an impression on you or who truly influenced your life.  It’s likely that person was in a servant role.  Many of those people are not grandiose.  Did a teacher, a parent, a pastor, or a friend influence you to achieve more, hang in there, do the right thing or cheer you on to be more than you could be on your own?  Was there someone who encouraged you with just the right words at just the right moment?

That is what a servant does.  Jesus advises; if you want to be great—if you want to be influential and remembered, be a servant.

Father, help me be a servant today.  Teach me the value of putting others ahead of me.  Let me learn from Jesus’ example the true value of being a servant. 

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The King Comes to Town…on a Donkey?

donky When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter, “Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted On a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal.”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”  Matthew 21:1-11 (The Message)

Yesterday was Palm Sunday.

Jesus, along with many other Jews, head to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Previously, Jesus told different people He healed and exorcized not to tell anyone about it.  It seemed He was trying to keep His ministry a secret.

Jesus understood the need for good timing.

He had disciples to groom.  The guys He picked didn’t even know how to pray, let alone preach.  Nor did they understand His kingdom.  He needed time with them.  They needed time with Him.  Jesus was about to usher in a kingdom like the world had never seen.

Throughout history, the Jewish people had fallen under the authority of many empires.  Very few were friendly.  Most were oppressive, to say the least.  Rome was an oppressive government.  The Roman emperors needed tax money to maintain the empire.  People in the countries under that rule, paid the price for the development of Rome and the lavish life styles of the emperors.

The people longed for release.  They were looking for a king to over-throw the Roman rule.

Then Jesus arrives.

The crowds begin to shout: “Lord, Save Us!”  That’s what hosanna means.

Save He will.  It just doesn’t look like what you might expect.

Jesus rode into town on a donkey.  Compare that to when He rides back to earth from Heaven in Revelation; in that account He’s riding a horse.  What’s the difference?  A king riding a donkey symbolized that king was coming in peace, a horse meant He was coming for war.

The crowd recognized Jesus’ coming and spread their coats and palm branches in the street as Jesus rode by.  It was a first century Red Carpet; an act of honor. How the clamor would change in just a few short days.

Not even His closest friends understood what he was about to do.

Jesus brings a new kingdom.  He brings a kingdom of peace, not between man and government, but between man and God.  To accomplish that, Jesus must lay down His life.

How odd for a king to die for His subjects.

Father, thank you for sending Your Son to be the peace offering needed to restore the relationship so desperately needed.  Open my eyes to see Your plan for me in this upside-down kingdom.  Give me Your heart of love and compassion.  Make me a servant.

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Remember Me

communionWhen it was time, He (Jesus) sat down, all the apostles with Him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”

Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.”

Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”

He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.  Luke 22:14-20 (MSG)

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Two of my dearest friends died in the past few years.  The sting is gone, mostly.  There are reminders of them all around me.  Not long ago, while at work, I took a bite of a sugar cookie from the coffee shop and burst into tears.  That cookie tasted just like the ones my friend used to make.  I had reconciled myself to never experiencing that taste again.  When I did, the rush of emotions was overwhelming and I began to cry.

A song, a TV show or movie, a statement made by an innocent, uninvolved by-stander; any of those things or events can bring a rush of memories to mind.  Remembering—it’s a two-edged sword.  Along with the memory comes and odd mix of delight and longing.  I had great relationships.  I have wonderful memories.  Since both those friendships spanned decades, I have a huge sense of loss—the length and depth of our relationships makes replicating them impossible.

Remembering

There had to be an unspoken tension in the Upper Room.  Quizzical, hushed directions for Passover preparations started that year’s unique celebration.  Jesus insisted on washing their feet. The words of “suffering,” “taking up a cross,” and “following Me” no doubt whirled in the minds of the disciples.  This seemed like the last opportunity to jockey for a position with Jesus.  The disciples acted as if this might be the last chance any one of them would have to cinch his position in the coming kingdom.

Jesus was about to face a beating and death on the cross.  His destiny was beginning to weigh heavy on His heart.  Jesus loved His disciples.  As any good teacher, Jesus wanted to make sure His “students” understood the subject matter.  More than a good teacher, Jesus, a friend and The Savior wanted them to understand the significance of the soon-to-be events.

Everyone one of the men in the Upper Room understood the importance and significance of the Passover celebration.  The blood of a spotless lamb purchased the redemption of God’s people from slavery in Egypt.  It was a pivotal event in Jewish history.  One moment so significant, the Jewish people memorialized and celebrated the event every year.  This year was no different.

Oh, but it was different.

Out with the old, in with the new

This Passover was special.  It was the last celebration that would commemorate the sacrifice of a lamb to cover the sins of the people.  As Jesus celebrated this feast one last time, He simultaneously initiated a new celebration, the Lord’s Supper.

I have to wonder what was going through the disciples’ minds.  They certainly knew the Passover prayers and blessings.   What was all this talk of “My body” and “My blood”?  It probably took a few days, maybe weeks, after the crucifixion before it all clicked.  I have to wonder, while writing the Gospel accounts, what emotions stirred in the disciples as they recalled that night.

A New Celebration –Do this to remember Me.

The sacrifice of animals could not accomplish what Jesus’ death accomplished on the cross.  Finally, sin could be washed away —God and man could be reconciled.  Jesus’ body and blood given as the complete sacrifice did what no animal sacrifice could—make sinful man righteous in God’s sight.

Christ’s death is the gift of grace.  What a joyous celebration!  What a reminder of our rescue!

Remember

Paul would write it this way:

…for God bought you with a high price.

So you must honor God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:20 (NLT)

 

What do you remember when you do this to remember Me?

  • God and Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf
  • The price paid for your salvation
  • The promise of an eternal home  
  • The commands Jesus lived out as an example for our lives now.

Be Born Again

Seek God First

Come to Me

Know Peace

Know Me

 

Father, let me never forget the price You paid when you sent Your Son to die for my sin.  Always keep Jesus’ sacrifice in my view as an example of Your amazing love and grace.  Help me respond by living a life of gratitude and praise. 

 

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Peace for When You Don’t Feel Ready

peace

 

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.

Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  John 14:1 (NLT)

 

 

Setting the scene

Next week, my Jewish friends will celebrate Passover, the most holy of Jewish holidays.  Passover is the holiday that commemorates the Israelites delivery from slavery to Egypt.  John 14 records the last time Jesus will be alone with His disciples before He’s crucified.

Passover celebrates God’s deliverance and provision.  The 10th plague, the death of the first-born, touched every family in Egypt and Goshen.  To be Passed Over by the Angel of Death, each family sacrificed a spotless, perfect lamb.  The blood from that lamb, painted on the top and sides of the doorframe, exempted that home from the angel’s visit.  The blood of that lamb, the Passover lamb, saved the family inside from death.

Remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus?  John shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Jesus was about to become the sacrifice that could save all of humanity from eternal death.

Not ready for the Test

His disciples were not expecting to hear the words, “I’m going to be betrayed and put to death.”

Have you ever watched your plans crumble before your eyes?  Unsettling, isn’t it?

While in school, did you ever procrastinate studying for a test?  Do you remember the panic that took over your heart as you looked through the questions?  Can you remember wishing you had paid better attention, studied just a bit more, prepared a bit more diligently?

Then you can relate to the disciples.

Jesus just announced a pop quiz and the disciples didn’t feel ready.  Actually, Jesus announced the final during what the disciples thought was mid-term.  The disciples were afraid and confused.

John 14 records the words of Jesus comforting his friends.  Truly tender words of love, they give an insight into the heart of Jesus and His love for His friends.  The truth of these words ring as true today as the night Jesus uttered them.

Jesus’ words of peace

  • Don’t let your hearts be  troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
  • I am going to prepare a  place for you.  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I  am.
  •  I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
  • No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.
  • Since I live, you also will live.
  • I am leaving you with a  gift—peace of mind and heart.   And  the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14, NLT)

Jesus offers promises of peace and hope to His friends during a moment when fear and uncertainty raged and threatened to overtake them.

Those promises are the same for you today.  Does Jesus seem far off?  Are you troubled?  Do the events of your day leave you feeling small and helpless?  Are you at a loss for answers as you look at the test questions in this “class” of life?

Jesus is The Way to the Father.  Because of Jesus sacrifice, you can run right to your heavenly Father for forgiveness, for protection, for peace.   He IS the answer to the question.

Jesus took the test, knows the answers and got all the questions right!  Come to Him.

Jesus’ call is:  find the Father, find peace, don’t be afraid.

Jesus made the sacrifice that, when applied to your life, changes everything.

 

Father, today I will rest in the peace You provide. It’s the peace Your Son paid for when He died on the cross for my sin.  I will quiet my mind and listen for your voice.  Teach me to run to You for peace and comfort.

 

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